Sunday, January 18, 2015

Against the executions in Indonesia

Nothing is Made New

for those killed by ‘firing squad’ in the name of justice in Indonesia
and a plea for clemency for those awaiting this fate

Heavy weather over the rainforest
heavy weather over plantations and prisons;
when I think of Nusakambangan
I think of the black egret and mouse deer.

Midnight coats the sea with vitriol —
glass waves shatter with each crack of the air;
when colonial overlords withdrew, the bones
of those they’d crushed made walls for the future.

Prayers for clemency can’t break free,
trapped in the wood of buildings and furniture;
midnight ends one day but doesn’t begin another,
the living are made to suffer their end in sight.

Heavy weather is over the rainforest
heavy weather is over plantations and prisons;
when I think of Nusakambangan
I think of the black egret and mouse deer.

John Kinsella

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Concreted protest poem against bauxite mine at Morangup



These photos are taken outside the office of the mining conglomerate seeking to establish a massive bauxite mine at Morangup, just south of Toodyay. The conglomerate is inculcating itself into the community, as many mining companies do, mixing notions of beneficence and largesse, and suggesting that the local people’s standard of living will rise, without illustrating the long-term costs. The destruction of habitat is not correctable, despite what is all too often claimed, and what is left is an emptied shell of place and space.

The photos here are protest poems. They are words on an A4 page, working as protest slogan and concreted poem. I used this size paper rather than a larger ‘poster size’ format to capture the printed working page, to show the dynamism of the poetry page as space. The text on the page is inseparable from the context in which it is written, within the moment and location of protest, but its message is polyvalent and polysituated.

The idea of the ‘temporary local’ (only here when it suits) that underpins the mining conglomerate, their incursions into local social and business bodies, their making of a politics of extraction into a vanguard-of-benefits modus operandi, is typical of the industry. The proffered wealth attracts the greedy and the needy alike — such companies require both, and the anodyne middle ground who will hold opinions (either way) and do nothing. (I am not demeaning or challenging the needy here. I use the expression 'greedy and needy' in the context of how mining companies perceive their access points to community. Obviously I am using the expression within this 'diegesis'. The expression is glib because of the glib nature of the mining company's take on their potential employees and the communities in which they operate.)

The poem/text in these photos is a prompt to take the discussion out of its niches, to join with many other conversations and protests. I recall once being told my services were not required in a pro-refugee protest because someone already had the ground covered — as if I would be taking their ‘protest air’. When such cadre politics and politics of personality overtake the cause, the cause is damaged. The poem should be about the cause, to my mind, and in this case the minimalism of the text is an attempt to achieve this. Including myself in the photo is a registering of personal protest against the mine in dialogue with the text I created, but also independently of it. It is also assuming responsibility for the views expressed (as is Tracy’s taking of the photos). There are many vectors to any position we take and they all need to come into consideration.

    John Kinsella

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Great Western Woodlands under threat

By John Kinsella

This is something all of us should be resisting -- it will not only devastate large areas of Western Australia's bushland but threaten the entire biosphere. It must be stopped before it begins. I am going to be there in front of the bulldozers -- poetically and literally -- I hope others will join me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Concrete, concretion and installation poetry

Concretion and Damage: a Pre-manifesto (though written after)

John Kinsella

Below this article is a short ‘manifesto’ piece on creating ‘concrete’ texts in ‘natural’ environments or environments in which the ‘natural world’ intervenes, ‘intrudes’, or defines the conditions of viewing. This necessitates a lot of scare quotes because of the problem of mediating the ‘natural’ in the context of human seeing, perception and activity. All human activity is contingent on the ‘natural world’, regardless of how much it attempts to distance itself from the materials and variables of its construction. In the case of the images below, it might entail a spider or some other creature walking over a sheet of paper displaying a poem — the poem/sheet placed on the ground (or elsewhere) in the expectation that something will cross its path, literally. The patience is in waiting to capture the photograph.

The series of poem-texts on sheets of A4 was done near Walwalinj in York between 2005 and 2008. The poems were written and printed and no copy kept (digital or otherwise). They were then photographed ‘in situ’ and the paper recycled. These poems exist somewhere between installations and concretions. Over the last nine or so years I have been accumulating poems that exist as expressions in landscape — accepting landscape is a mediated term in itself, and relates to human presence and intervention with varying levels of impact. Whether printed-paper placed among rocks and scrub, or lines written in charcoal on a concrete path between York gums, or words scratched into a firebreak, none of the creations had more than a temporary presence in the environment outside being captured in photographs. The aim is always minimal impact on the ‘natural’. As we located ourselves mentally (as well as physically) at Jam Tree Gully, as we travelled away and returned, a real sense of concretion developed. The words written on the page, often while looking through a window, typed to shape on a manual typewriter, written in journals, seemed to be one part of a locution of place, an articulation of presence and the politics of this. The aim was to plant (literally trees, but also words) and repair, and to record.

Even ‘healing’ brings its costs, and all impacts generate change and loss. I started forming words on the obligatory firebreaks with sticks, scratching short poems in the gravel driveway with its steep gradient (see my earlier articles on the poetics of gradients). Sometimes I photographed these; mostly I didn’t. And in other places, in other countries, I did the same, recording the concretions in poems: describing activities but with no other record. Walking became a concretion for me, and I stepped the lines across roadways and pathways, through fields and paddocks and along fence-lines, up mountains (literally) and across bodies of water. All of these (from various locations around the world) feed into what is formulating as Jam Tree Gully 4 — a conceptualisation of concretion, a ‘demapping’ (see ‘demapping’ article) of presence that shows the costs of even the lightest impact, and contemplations of alternatives and consequences. They are works of ‘place’, displaced in their presentation.

I have always been interested in handwriting and drawing, and since the mid-90s have been writing ‘graphology’ poems. JTG4 is part of that project, and separate. In absence, as the grass is cut by a family member who helped build our house at Jam Tree Gully, I have been drawing word ‘maps’ of the cutting and tree-growth to ‘be there’. They are mental maps, conceptual maps in lieu of. The absentee reconstruction so when we return I can compare the imagined with the reality, and based on something I’ve done year after year, and bear the calluses on my hands to inform the cartography. But these are ‘de-maps’ because even absent-presence comes at a cost, and the polysituated self absorbs so much — a consciousness that giving back, sharing, and restoring even when away has to be built into the texts.

Which brings to mind someone else's recent project of connecting with place in Wales where a poem was painted onto rock faces in the Snowdonia National Park, intended to be temporary, to be washed away by the rains, but ended up being baked by a warmer than expected September and proving indelible. There are a number of issues here. One is the desire to mark place beyond the moment, which is problematical. But even more so is to miss the fact that climate change will necessarily alter conditions of interaction and presentation. So many of these things are ill-thought-out — a nice notion, but no depth in understanding of causality. So much ‘eco-art’, intended to be of a place and meld with it, merge with it, do no damage, leaves a permanent mark. I recall river installations made from ‘local materials’ that damaged microenvironments then floated down into the sea to join the suspended wastes that are changing the biosphere. The artist’s desire to leave a mark is understandable, but ephemerality has its worth in such contexts. Speaking words that won’t be heard, scratching words in sand that will blow over in a day... there are millennia of such acts. They are more durable than felled trees and carved rock (damaged or ‘used’ in the name of art and knowledge) in so many ways. They enter language and ritual, they inform our movements and day-to-day activities in ways we are rarely aware of.

But I am talking about a form of the concrete. A dissolvable, non-toxic concrete. That’s thinking about materials used and where they are from, what will happen to them afterwards, the ink used, the electricity used, the manufacturing implications — everything. In a global-capitalist world that is consuming itself, that glorifies the soldier in war but not the janitor who cleans up the body wastes of Ebola victims, we need to recognise the art of the moment, the poetry that is survival without damage. We don’t need to write out words in places revered for their natural beauty, but we can speak them there and even hold up a sheet of paper with those words, backdropped by the sublime or whatever you want to call it. The marks must be temporary because any more than that and the place will be changed irrevocably. And that it was altered in such ways in the past doesn’t mean we need to continue doing so. All borders are artifices. How we connect to a place is informed by so many variables. We don’t need to mark our connection by undoing the stone of it, itself.

The creation of a text in a natural environment, a concretion, brings into question how close you are/were to the event. I suggest that those performing an act of damage probably have it subliminally or overtly ‘written into’ their poetic language. And in their practice overall. These things are highlighted or hidden depending on how conveniently we can distance ourselves from the impacts we make, the damage we do. In poems of place we inevitably implant ‘locators’ — ‘co-ordinates’/spatial reference-points (tree, rock, mountains) that relate to the terrain of the place out of which the language comes. Without those topographical reference-points, sense of place is lost. Or is it? One could create simulacra in a poem on the page that seemingly have nothing to do with the place they refer to...?

This applies to one of the tenets of polysituatedness (see earlier article) and its larger set, international regionalism. The influx of many other geographical and topographic knowledges doesn’t undermine the fact that any place will have long-associated presence/experience and (spiritual) connectedness that has generated a specific language of that place, that loses something (or something is changed) in its being translocated or invested with new presence. The globalisation of economies (that is, imposing a mode of trade and finance centred on major economic power clusters but consuming and smothering smaller and less robust communities in the process) is vanguard military-capitalist self-empowerment, which is about ensuring that all the conduits feed the wealth of the few. Constructing a shop that sells mobile phones in place of a stand of trees, one might very well lessen communication rather than extend or ‘create’ it. It’s not about egalitarianism or caring, but about wealth-accumulation and control. To go into an impoverished space and create texts in the physical materials of that place (human-made or ‘natural’), without a personal connectedness with that place, is clearly exploitative on many levels; but it might be generative if, say, it brings awareness of issues that leads to self-empowerment. That would be a thread of polysituatedness that is conscious and self-critiquing. Does the end justify the means? That depends...

Poems implanted into the natural world are always about intrusion. They alter the co-ordinates of the ‘poetry’/poetics that pre-exist their intrusion. And there’s always a poetry (‘constructed’ and utilised in various forms and manifestations by people, animals, birds, plants...). To leave your mark is to occlude other marks, equally and maybe more necessary (codes to survival and understanding). If we start from that knowledge, then we can lessen the negative impact and increase the generative (awareness, different ways of seeing, respect). Also, we need to stop thinking of ‘poetry’, or rather the gestural substance of poetry, as a purely human activity. What we might call a ‘found’ poem or ‘artwork’ in nature (from a flower through to a burnt stump in the shape of something we think we recognise), is also nature in-itself.

Listening to a rare bird recently, I was conscious of taking its song for my purposes. It is its song. It’s not an installation. It’s not my poem (though I will make it mine, then altruistically share with other humans), but it might well be the bird’s poem. It’s not a concretion. But it might be something akin, something similar. It’s not all utility, I am sure. When placing a poem in the natural world, we could think of it as collaboration... with nature? But what is the ‘other’ getting out of it, rather than yourself and your audience (people)?

Literal concrete... was already there -- added charcoal
Literal concrete again... charcoal washed off after a week
Paper was recycled afterwards
Stick-writing on firebreak at JTG
Weighted down in high wind
Christmas spider came along of its own accord, after I placed the poem between 2 trees!
Another Graphology in a different form
One of many gravel concretions that change shape over days

Demapping — Jam Tree Gully 4 Concretions Manifesto 1

Jam Tree Gully 4 is a visual accretion of concrete poetry/visual poetry material, sound files and other materials from the last decade of creating artworks 'in situ' — that is, at the place of conception and awareness. In essence, Jam Tree Gully 4 can only come into being in a public space — I see this 'book' as a curated art space rather than the conventional printed page (though a catalogue would work well to accompany the installed materials).

The map poems are part of a 'concrete' line of work that I have been investigating for many years. They include poems written and printed (and then deleted from the electronic 'record' - these large-font printed poems only exist in this form), poems photographed 'in terrain'/in-situ (including rocks, clay, even ants 'randomly' walking across them) at my mother's place below Walwalinj (Mount Bakewell) in York, Western Australia; literal maps of Australia with text inserted, and poems created from text that 'map' a place - i.e. the words working as figurative and representative acts - standing for, and spatially in relation to, the place itself. I have also included images of texts scraped into the dirt and word poems ('graphology') made from sticks laid out on a firebreak at our place (Jam Tree Gully in the Western Australian wheatbelt). I have worked on concretions in the southwest of the Republic of Ireland which will become an extension of the Jam Tree Gully scenario — an ironic 'annexe' to the place of 'home'.

I am particularly interested in materiality of 'presentation' — the 'etho'/'ethical'-politics of deploying waste materials; of using, say, charcoal taken from a bushfire that went through the zone years before, of writing on concrete scribbled out on rough ground as a track when the rains (eventually!) come, the yellow sand brought in from elsewhere to break up soil for a vegetable garden or laying a driveway. Equally important is a respect for the intactness of rocks and eucalypts, the passing insects and animals — these are 'caught' in photographs and in textual imaging, but left unhindered in their place of origin.

This all fits into a politics of what I term 'demapping' colonised spaces and looking to different ways of configuring space outside of survey (indigenous Australians have numerous traditional and post-traditional methods — verbal and visual). When I say 'etho-political' I am playing on ethical, ethos, ecological and so on. In creating 'spatial poems' in which I 'map' our place at Jam Tree Gully, I enact ‘return’ as well as retrieval: this is stolen land which cannot be ‘owned’, and by acknowledging that the colonising language is overlay, I also acknowledge other languages exist/pre-exist as well, and are indeed primary. I do not use strings of indigenous words in order not to appropriate. The act of concretion is a recognition of the totemic, of the indigenous, and of the fact that I cannot lay claim to the material, spiritual, or conceptual co-ordinates of this space. But I can witness, observe, and ‘present’ (not ‘represent’).

So the 'mapping' poems become a process (even 'methodology') of/for breaking away from the constraints of mapping for control, occupation, dispossession and other power-ploys. The map defies its own purpose, its own subservience to 'usage'.

Jam Tree Gully 4 is curated space. A curator 'spatialises' it within the conceptual (and real) gallery. In essence, it is an exhibition of the creation of ‘the book’ in curatorial space.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Imminent loss of liberties in Australia

Delicate Balance

‘The delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift.’

— Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister

on edge,
the fall.

of return
as security.

with its effect
torn off —

as brutal
as the cruel
child, bitter

Sets the gallery’s
seismographs off
before walls
even move, art
stable as iron

with self-styled
head, done
in coal.

Doesn’t require
with other
titular heads:

needs no precedent,
is its own pedestal.

Your signature,
elusive and solid
as its digital record.

You’ve created
a placebo,

together we can
keep an eye on
each other,

push the shift

John Kinsella

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The EPA in Western Australia is Corrupt, as is Too Much of Australia!

by John Kinsella

If any of you have ever doubted that Western Australia has been built out of corruption, try this one. Numerous mining and development projects have been given approval by the horrifically inept and corrupt Environmental Protection Agency (that friend of miners) when by their own admission there were conflicts of interest on the board.

This includes board members having shares in the very companies they were granting approval to for environmentally damaging and invasive projects.

So what does the Western Australian Government do? Stop these illegal projects (they are on a massive scale)? NO, they are seeking retrospectively to ‘validate’ the projects by changing legislation. See this article for more details.

Australia has become a mockery under the rule of conservative governments, greedy mining interests, and with its increasing tendency to racism and bigotry in media, sports, community and elsewhere. It is a disgrace and yet, other than the few who will always stand up and show their hands against these corruptions and exploitations, so many Australians want life to roll on as complacently as usual for them. The Lucky Country despite the irony of that name should be the Selfish Country; time to be blunt about it. The Australian environment is abused and destroyed — every speck of it will be consumed through one trick or another. Zoos are all so many Australians seem to take to heart.

Further to the above, last week I sent this letter to a number of editors of journals and newspapers... I guess it speaks for itself:

dear editors, though you are arts and literary editors, and not political editors, some of you will not be surprised by this missive — especially where i have corresponded with you for many years. however, i do appreciate that you still might have doubts regarding the relevance of this given your positions (or independence from editorial policy) in terms of your newspapers’/journals’ political hierarchy.

i am one who firmly believes there is no separation of the arts and politics, and whatever we say and do artistically impacts someone somewhere — silence can be a powerful tool, but more so are words, images and music. i wish to register my absolute disgust with australian political culture, and for me that is most effectively articulated through arts practice and through communicating with those who comment on the arts in australia. your position, in some ways, is more ‘powerful’ than the opinion pieces of your newspapers’ social and political commentators.

i have never taken you for granted, nor seen you as ‘artsy’ neutral. you are not. you have as much responsibility as any of us to demonstrate an awareness of what is happening in an australia that is seeking to gain a part, a role, in the redistribution of power around the globe. we have had right-wing governments before, but few have been so aggressive and militaristic — few would put a position in ukraine over genuinely and commitedly helping to tackle the ebola outbreak in africa. the warmongering desire to create a militarised zone that is ‘team australia’ is oppressive in so many ways with little liberty or freedom about it (as in the ‘boats’ turned back on the ‘high seas’).

i feel we have reached a watershed in our literary as well as our socio-political history, and i beg you to speak out or at least register that we are being confronted with a ‘putin in australia’ itself. i’ve long joked that abbott is more putin than putin, and now he wants to wrestle him in the bear pit to show what kind of balls he has. fertile, aren’t they! the macho posturing is beyond embarrassing, it’s bloody dangerous.

as this government plays the uranium game, the world war game, and the team australia game, too many australians are starting to look benignly upon and indifferent to what’s being played out. it’s not the case — and it’s certainly not the case with any of you whom i have worked with, admired, had differences or agreements with! point is, you are arts/literary people working to give us more than material comfort, more than aggressive satisfaction, more than the sum of our selves.

you matter and have voices. please speak out!

Friday, August 15, 2014

For Beauty’s Sake: Poetry and Activism (Keynote Address, Perth Poetry Festival 2014)

by John Kinsella

I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this country and the non-ownership of this land.

Poetry is so often less about ‘Art’ and more about ‘activism’ than many like to think. The poem that captures a glimpse of ‘nature’, or human loss, or reconstitutes a family memory through an object found while going through the belongings of a deceased relative, might seem to be little to do with activism but everything to do with art. That is, to do with the art of compacting, containing and adding ‘depth’/layering,/nuance to an idea so it creates conduits into other ways of seeing — creating the poem-object. But for me, rather than the ‘artiness of art’, I am interested in the poem’s potential for resistance, not its compliance with a status quo, not as the production of what will become an objet d’art, a thing intended for wealth accumulation and pleasure. Of course, a piece of art can escape its creator’s (or buyer’s) intentions and become subversive through context.

Poetry works the contradictions, the paradoxes, and brings the incongruous and contiguous into alignment, rendering them into shape, pattern and interpretability. That’s art, and this art is about aesthetics, about a hierarchising of perception into a spectrum of ‘taste’.

I’ve never cared much for taste, and most of us would agree beauty is subjective, which doesn’t have to lead us to say aesthetics can contain such difference, because the issue of ‘beauty’, to me, shouldn’t come up in the first place. Or rather, ‘beauty’ as thing-in-itself. Because if our intent is to oppose beauty to, say, destruction, and use it as a symbol of integrity, liberty, and agency, then it becomes something outside the limitations of taste — in fact, to the arbiters of taste, it might well be ‘tasteless’. Beauty in this case, becomes a political point, an act of defiance in the face of damage, destruction, and disempowerment. Beauty becomes a symbol of resistance and possibly its paradox. That’s a point-of-view issue, or maybe it’s actually an issue of empowerment?

Does the mining company, such as Bauxite Alumina Joint Ventures, wanting to create a massive open-cut mine at Morangup that would reach to Wundowie almost twenty kilometres away, see the destruction of habitat that it will wreak, in terms of destruction of beauty? Of course not. They see their promised ‘rehabilitation’ of land as a kind of beauty; they see the aluminium goods we consume as a kind of beauty; they see wealth-creation as a kind of beauty. No doubt, like Rio Tinto’s collaboration with the Black Swan Theatre Company, they’ll target ‘the arts’ in their desire to extend their largesse, to manufacture beauty that we can all digest as art.

And poetry? Poetry is occasionally offered funding directly and indirectly by such companies. It’s easy to get caught out, so we need to be wary and understand where the money’s coming from; often, it’s hidden. Business mostly wishes to take beauty and turn it into a form of capitalist activism, they wish to take art — all your arts — and make them subservient to this notion of beauty. It’s called advertising... or propaganda!

But if we accept that the integrity of land, that country itself is intrinsically beautiful, then in the name of beauty we might claim all evocations of natural beauty in poetry as an activist moment, as a resistance to the mining industry version. So poets describing a kangaroo paw, poets evoking a sunset (with or without pollution coloration), poets noticing a birdcall and implanting it in their own aubade, their own dawn love-poem, become activist in a way that resists the consuming of country enacted by these corporate miners.

So activism in poetry is often implicit, unless you celebrate goods, fetishise your possessions for the sake of them being your possessions. No amount of irony can save the poem that’s built around the actual ordering and acquisition of material goods for the literal sake of ownership.

But the activism I am interested in tonight is possibly more direct. It’s a matter of working lyrical and rhetorical registers, of bringing the figurative and didactic into conversation. The activist poem can traverse the spatiality from ‘celebratory nature poem’ all the way to the damning rant, the poem that simply says, in essence, that ‘All mining companies are fucked! They serve their own purposes. The rock they crush was a home to animals and plants. The rock they crush was a story...’ and so on. A poem doesn’t need to be stuck in the consistency of diction, in registers of display, in the packaging that more accords with Rio Tinto’s glossy arts policy. And if it does deploy ‘regular diction’, ‘predictable’ metrics, and a pat rhyming scheme, let its subject matter challenge the very conventions from which such approaches to poetry arise. Or let it connect with them, with the aural roots, the aids to memory that fomented the patterning of words into lyrics, into combinations of lines that become memorable.

Either way, let the poem protest against the constraints that industry, the military, religion, and government would impose on poets, poetry and community. Poems speak for themselves however hard they might rant, and maybe that’s what the governments and corporate cultures fear the most: their unpredictability, their capacity to make non-violent radical change.

It took the American poet Muriel Rukeyser in 1938 to help articulate in ‘The Book of the Dead’ the horror of the deaths of hundreds of labourers from silicosis after they were forced to mine silica without masks when excavating the hydroelectric Hawks Nest Tunnel at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia from 1927 to the late 30s. That’s poetry as direct, unremitting activism. Is there beauty in the poetry? — maybe of a sort touched upon above, but certainly not that packaged by Union Carbide, the company at the centre of the disaster, or any other prodigal of global corporate capitalism. The beauty of product, the beauty of modernity hawked by such companies is at variance with life, habitat, and health of the biosphere. Rukeyser wrote, investigated, reported:

[see her poem...]

I’d like to finish with a few lines from a poem entitled ‘Mining Company’s Hymn’ from the 1977 collection Jagardoo by Nyungar poet and playwright Jack Davis, whose poetry I am lucky enough to be editing into a collected volume at the moment:

The government is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
They let me search in the Aboriginal reserves
which leads me to many riches
for taxation’s sake.
Though I wallow in the valley of wealth I will fear no weevil
because my money is safe in the bank
vaults of the land,
and my Government will always comfort me.